Some years ago, when living in Wisconsin where I was the pastor of my first congregation, I went to visit a dad and his young son in a rural home. It was around noon. They came walking from woods in the back yard wearing striped, facial paint and camouflage outfits. They had been out since before dawn, hunting turkeys.
The dad and son were carrying rifles. They came onto the porch where I was waiting, cheerily greeted me — and offered me a rifle. “Would you like to take a shot?” the dad asked. They had targets of plastic water bottles set up in the back yard.
As a life-long journalist (I have written for newspapers since the age of 15), I immediately declined even touching the rifle because I could imagine the headline: “Pastor shoots church member.”
I was so fretting over an accident, I wouldn’t even touch the weapon.
I have been thinking about this incident lately because of the pros & cons about “open-carry” or “concealed-carry.” The “pros” emphasize the Superman-to-the-rescue scenarios: A robbery is foiled by somebody packing a pistol.
At the same time, however, what are we seeing with regard to accidents? Kids are shooting siblings, kids are shooting neighbors…
All the worse, the people who are most experienced and trained in handling weapons – have been making awful decisions. Police officers are shooting too quickly.
Are we to imagine that “Good Samaritans” who are carrying heat and are prepared to use it will act better than these professionals?
Personality is a factor. In 2014, a retired police officer in a Tampa movie theater pulled out his pistol and shot dead a young dad over a dispute about texting during the film. Race is a factor. In 2012, a man at a gas station in Florida opened fire on vehicle that contained some young black men — because he “hated thug music.” He killed a 17-year-old.
Both of these shooters claimed self-defense. Both were determined to have raised nonsensical notions about threats to themselves.
Where “open carry” is legal, restaurants are banning customers who want to come in with a rifle slung over their shoulder.
Where “concealed carry” is proposed — like on college campuses — even after so many shootings — students and professors are objecting. The sheer number of guns is not making them feel safer.
What makes the situation all the more dangerous these days is the increasing “Minute Man” mentality in which people are taking up arms. The dispute between that nutty, racist rancher in Nevada with the Bureau of Land Management resulted in a mustering of “patriots” with their weapons.
The possibility of accidents — the likelihood of accidents — the human factors of racism and righteous outrage against the federal government — the frenzied emotionalism about “they won’t take our guns” — all contribute to the hair-trigger environment. Open carry or concealed carry — both simply add to the gun culture that singles out the USA among all advanced nations as harboring a continuing madness.
The “pros” typically respond: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
The use of guns illegally occurs primarily two ways — gang activity and domestic violence.
Are individuals packing with concealed carry or open carry thinking that permission to carry could make things any better? They could intervene – in a drive-by shooting? In a dispute in a home?
The mass shootings at schools are, of course, the driving issue behind all discussion about guns – because the unthinkable happens so often.
The main problem has proven to be – people with a grudge are getting access to weapons. In some cases, they have actually bought guns legally (as weak as “legally” exists so far). In other cases, they simply picked up weapons owned by others right there in their homes.
They did not share my own fright over handling a weapon. All the worse, they found it easy enough to arm themselves in the “gun environment” which is made all the more lax by forces fighting every effort to rein in the hardware.